The Morality of Abortion

Moral Theory and Practice

December 12, 2003

One of the most controversial court decisions in the history of the United States is Roe v. Wade. It\'s a decision that goes much deeper then just a moral dilemma on whether or not a fetus is a person or not. It\'s a decision that should make any discerning individual question the ethics of the legislation of morality. But I\'ll leave that for another time, this paper\'s purpose is make clear my beliefs on abortion. To do this I will lay a groundwork of the history of abortion in our country and how it affects us on a local (state) level, and expand on that with the help of secular philosophers and by drawing from my Christian background.

To fully understand abortion one must look at its place in society throughout human history. Laws against abortion are only as old as the mid 19th century. Documentation dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans lead us to believe that they were practiced frequently with the blessing of most of the people of the day. The only resistance against abortion in ancient Greece was the Pythagorean School of philosophers and their Hippocratic Oath, and later during the height of the Roman Empire the emergence of Christianity. As civilization moved into the present era common law began to reflect that the views on abortion were that it was okay up until the point of "quickening." Quickening is the point of animation for the fetus, its first recognizable movement or the point where it was believed to have been infused with a soul. The penalty for killing a quickened fetus under common law is unsure reports have it ranging from homicide to a simple misdemeanor depending on the time and region. In 1803 England enacted its first abortion legislation which made the abortion of a quickened fetus a capitol offense and pre-quickening abortion a far less grievous offense. American abortion statutes followed suit in 1821 when Connecticut adopted the same legislature. In 1828 New York also adopted a form of the English legislature with post-quickening abortion being treated as second-degree manslaughter and pre-quickening abortion as only a misdemeanor. Around the time of the Civil War more and more states began enacting abortion legislature starting with laws close to those seen in Connecticut and New York but over time they became more and more strict as to when an abortion could take place up until the point where the only allowed it when it was necessary to save the life of the mother. This brings us up the undeniably the most important case in the abortion debate and possibly in the American governing system. The case Roe v. Wade which not only legalized abortion but set forth a precedent for taking the lawmaking power out of the hands of the people and gave it to nine individuals who need not take into consideration the wishes of the people since they have no power to remove them from office.

In 1973 a pregnant single woman (Roe) brought a class action challenging the constitutionality of the Texas criminal abortion laws. These laws mandated that abortions may only be attempted for the purpose of saving the life of the mother. She claimed that they were unconstitutional in that they abridged her right of personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Later she claimed to be suing "on behalf of herself and all other women" who were in similar situations. In this case the Supreme Court determined that the state of Texas\'s anti-abortion laws were an unconstitutional infringement on the privacy of a woman during the first trimester of abortion, when the fetus is determined to not be viable. The court allowed the states to continue to legislate on the legality of abortion after the first trimester of pregnancy. In 1976 in the case Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth the Supreme Court overturned a Missouri law that required spousal consent for an abortion because it could not give a spouse a veto power that the state was prohibited from exercising.

In the state of Iowa all abortions are legal except partial birth abortions. Partial birth abortions are classified as abortions in which the fetus